If you’ve recently added a new dog to your family, or maybe you’ve just been doing some reading about dog training, you’ve probably come across the idea of crate training. In my opinion, the crate is one of the most underutilized training tools. Time and time again I see clients with dogs that are displaying unwanted behaviors, being destructive, having accidents in the house, showing signs of mild separation anxiety or worse are already suffering from severe separation anxiety. What do all of these issues have in common? They probably could have been prevented by simply using a crate.
How do I prevent problem behaviors with a crate?
- Is your dog 100% housetrained? If not, using a crate is a huge advantage when housetraining a dog whether it’s a puppy or even an older dog. You want the crate to be cozy and only big enough for your dog to lie down, turn around and stand in comfortably. Dogs are hardwired not to go the bathroom in their den, where they eat and sleep. If you know your dog will not go to the bathroom in their crate, then you’re 50% of the way to stopping them from going to the bathroom in the house.
- Does your dog get super excited when you come home and jump all over you? Unless you and your guests all love this type of greeting every time, using a crate is an easy way to eliminate this problem. If your dog is crated while you are gone, there is no opportunity for him to run and jump on you when you walk through the door. Instead, you can take your time when coming in, hanging up your coat, taking off your shoes, putting the groceries away, etc. then allow your dog out of their crate when they are calm and you are prepared to greet them.
- Does your dog get into trouble anytime you turn your back or leave the room? If so, you should be using the crate as a safe place to put your dog where they can’t get into trouble or ingest things that could be potentially dangerous. Use the crate anytime you can’t watch your dog closely. If you allow your dog to continue to have opportunities to practice bad behavior, it will become a habit, a very bad habit. If your dog never has the opportunity to develop these bad habits, that’s one less thing you have to worry about.
- Is your dog clingy? Does your dog follow you around 24/7? If you suspect your dog might be showing signs of separation anxiety, you need to help him learn to cope with being apart from you. Separation anxiety is one of the hardest issues to solve in dog training. It takes a long time, a lot of effort, management, counter-conditioning and desensitization. This is the perfect example of “an ounce of prevention” being extremely worth it. The dog crate is a perfect way to create separation in a safe way. There’s more to it than putting your dog in a crate, shutting the door and leaving for 6 hours, especially if your dog already has true separation anxiety, but by introducing the crate in a positive way and socializing your dog to spending time in the crate on a regular basis, you can nip separation anxiety in the bud.
“But I think dog crates are cruel.”
Dogs are naturally denning animals meaning in the wild they seek out and create (dig) a den to live in with their pack. This is part of their instinctual nature. They don’t dig out a large, roomy space to lounge in, they dig a small, dark space that’s cozy and just big enough for them to fit. We as humans sometimes see a crate like it’s a small jail. We have to remember that dogs are a different species and see things very differently than we do. To a dog, a crate is their den, their private space where no one bothers them, a space they can retreat to and just relax.
“But my dog barks or cries in the crate.”
The reason most dogs bark or cry in a crate is because of the forced separation. (Dogs also learn rather quickly if you’ve ever “come to their rescue” that barking and crying is a really efficient way to get that crate door to open.) Separation from their family a.k.a. their “pack”. In a dog pack, there is no separation. They sleep together, they hunt together, they eat together, and they play together. In a mixed human-dog family, the humans go to work and the dogs stay home, or the humans go to the movies or the store or countless other places that dogs aren’t welcome. Separation is a normal part of human life. As dog owners, we have the job of helping our dogs learn to cope with this separation. The sooner we can help our dogs accept separation as a normal part of their day, the lower their stress level will become when we have to be away from them. How do we help dogs accept separation from the family? Use a crate! Crate training is a great way to create some consistency in your dog’s daily schedule.
“But my dog is already house trained and doesn’t have accidents anymore.”
The crate is useful for more than just potty training dogs. Having a dog that is comfortable being in a crate will make things easier for you and your dog: Planning to travel with your dog? Having a dog that can be crated (i.e. in a hotel room) ensures no extra charges on your bill because of chewing, accidents or rowdy behavior. Leaving your dog at friend’s house while you’re out of town? Having a dog that can be crated makes it much easier to find someone willing to watch your dog for you, especially if they aren’t already a dog-savvy person. Does your dog have surgery scheduled or god-forbid what if an emergency happens? Most vets put dogs in crates while they are hospitalized and having a dog who is comfortable being crated helps eliminate the extra stress it might cause for a dog who has never been crated. Do you have a dog that visits a groomer regularly? Many groomers will crate a dog before and/or after bathing and grooming your dog.
How long should I use a crate?
To help you raise a balanced and well-mannered dog:
I recommend dogs be crated at night while they are sleeping until they are 1 year old.
I recommend dogs be crated when left home alone until they are 2 years old.
By this point, your dog should be fully house trained meaning they will hold their bladder until you let them out, they are respectful of your house and belongings (not chewing or destroying things that aren’t theirs), they don’t counter surf or get into the trash cans and they demonstrate good behavior as a habit.
If you’d like to learn more about how to start crate training your dog or if you’re having difficulties crating your dog, please feel free to reach out to us at Argos Dog Training, we are happy to help you Enjoy Your Dog!!!